State of the Hogs: Old Debt

Memories fade, but stealing doesn't go away. That's why beating Tennessee will always be important for many Arkansas fans.

If things proceed on form the next two weeks, Arkansas will get its second top 10 matchup of the season when it travels to LSU.

But before the Razorbacks can give thanks, they must collect an old debt. Tennessee comes to town Saturday. Arkansas still owes the Volunteers.

Yeah, I carry a grudge where the Volunteers are concerned. I've been carrying it since high school.

Some remember the Alamo. I remember the 1971 Liberty Bowl. And Preston Watts.

Louis Campbell remembers. So does Harold Horton. In Eastern Arkansas, folks still mutter the name of Preston Watts along with expletives.

"I tell you what I thought of Preston Watts," Harold Horton said this week. "I wanted to take dynamite and stuff it down his chimney for Christmas."

Watts ruined the 1971 Christmas for all Razorback fans. Just five days before that holiday, Watts was the Grinch. He stole a Liberty Bowl victory and handed it to Tennessee.

I'm telling you it was horrible. Gift wrapped in that ugly Tennessee orange.

An SEC official, Watts was a Memphis businessman. To this day, most Razorback fans will tell you that he did it for bank deals he had in the works with UT grads in his hometown.

But he cheated the Hogs. They deserved a 16-7 victory. Instead, Watts took a Bill McClard field goal off the board that would have clinched the UA triumph. Then he awarded a fumble to Tennessee that was clearly recovered by Arkansas captain Tom Reed. Not only did Reed recover it well before any UT defenders arrived, but he handed it to the official when he got up from the pile. Get off the field, Reed was told. It's Tennessee ball.

The Vols drove a short distance for the go-ahead score and the 14-13 victory. And Razorbacks -- players and coaches -- chased Watts right out of the stadium.

Horton was a UA defensive coach in 1971. To this day the Razorback Foundation president says it "wasn't right Tennessee won that game. Tom Reed got the fumble. He stood up with the ball in the air and handed it to the official. It was a bad call. A terrible call. A mistake."

And the holding call to wipe out the field goal? "Bad," Horton said. "Real bad. It was a holding call on an interior lineman on a field goal. I hadn't seen that one before that night and I have not heard of it called since."

Horton said the hurt from such calls don't go away.

"It hurt then and it still hurts," Horton said. "Your parents teach you right from wrong when you are young. You know when you see something really wrong and I did that night. That hurts and nothing can undo it."

Campbell, now head coach at Sheridan High School, was the game's defensive player of the bowl. He set a UA record with three interceptions. He set up the go-ahead field goals with his thefts.

Unlike Watts, his were legit.

"Were we cheated?" Campbell said. "Well, as a coach, you don't ever want to blame it on officials. You just teach your players that they control the outcome, officials don't.

"But this time, this game? Yeah, we were cheated. There was no doubt in our locker room after the game what happened. None. I was quiet, except for helmets slamming to the floor.

"You think stuff like that should be outside the realm of athletics, that it's fair.

"But as far as getting cheated in that game, I don't think it. I know it. No doubt in my mind. It's the only time I've ever felt one man just took a game from you. It was shock. Disbelief."

The stories go that Watts had to keep running right out of the stadium for fear of his life or he was headed to the bank to cash his Tennessee check.

"I know for a fact that Joe Gibbs, our line coach, chased him," Horton said. "I saw it. Joe was back here to speak at a breakfast this past week and he mentioned it. He did that.

"I wish I could tell you what I remember the most from that night was Louis setting the record with those three interceptions. But that image of Preston Watts getting chased and those calls, I remember that."

Campbell said, "I didn't see it as an eyewitness, but I know Preston Watts got chased. I didn't chase him. I wasn't that fast."

Why write this after all of these years? Young Arkansans need to know. They need to understand Saturday night when someone on their way out of the stadium proclaims, "That one was for Preston Watts."

Arkansas has beaten Tennessee three times since coming to the SEC.

There was an improbable upset in 1992 that was special to Campbell. He coached the secondary -- and the punt returners -- for his good friend, Joe Kines, the interim head coach.

"That was pretty good," he said. "Orlando Watters returned the punt and when he got close to the goal line, he cupped his hand to his helmet. I don't know how many people they had in that stadium -- 103,000 then -- and they went silent.

"As a coach you wouldn't advocate your play doing that, but I didn't mind. Then when Todd Wright made that kick, our sideline exploded. That was a great moment as a coach."

There was another great UA victory, in 1999 that repaid the heartbreak of losing the year before on Clint Stoerner's fumble, one of the few mistakes in a wonderful performance, sending the Vols to the national title.

Neither of those are nearly enough to retire the Watts debt. Plus, UT fans have made it worse.

They love to introduce themselves to Hog fans as the now deceased Watts, then laugh.

Horton wants current Razorbacks to understand the deep feelings for Tennessee that live large in East Arkansas.

"It's a big game for a great number of our fans," Horton said. "Real big."

Folks in south Arkansas may be thinking about LSU already, but not me.

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